Arkansas hires Pelphrey as new head coach
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- John Pelphrey was introduced as Arkansas' new basketball coach Monday -- and he says he'll still be Arkansas' new coach when he goes to sleep Tuesday night.
"I'm not going anywhere," Pelphrey said. "But I have heard the first day is the toughest."
In 2006, John Pelphrey led South Alabama to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998. Before becoming the Jaguars' coach, Pelphrey was an assistant for Billy Donovan at Marshall and Florida.
Pelphrey arrived a week after Dana Altman took over the Razorbacks. Altman backed out the next day and returned to Creighton.
Chancellor John A. White referenced Yogi Berra's remarks about it being "deja vu all over again" -- but he said this time, Arkansas' coach is here to stay.
"Don't plan on coming to a press conference next Monday," White said. "Enough's enough."
Pelphrey coached at South Alabama the last five seasons, but he has plenty of Southeastern Conference ties. He played for Kentucky under Eddie Sutton and Rick Pitino and was an assistant at Florida.
Pelphrey was introduced at a news conference similar to Altman's a week earlier, but Pelphrey looked a lot more comfortable partaking in Arkansas' traditional "Pig Sooie" call.
"That cheer has never sounded so sweet," the 38-year-old Pelphrey said. "It's always been a little intimidating before."
Pelphrey's college playing career ended with one of the most memorable games in NCAA tournament history. He was standing a few feet from Christian Laettner when the Duke star made his famous buzzer-beater against Kentucky in the 1992 round of eight.
"Well that's the greatest game according to the Duke fans," Pelphrey joked. "Not to me."
After that, Pelphrey became an assistant at Oklahoma State and Marshall before heading to Florida, where he was an assistant from 1996-02. Pelphrey then went 80-67 in five seasons at South Alabama, including 44-19 the last two seasons. The Jaguars made the NCAA tournament in 2006.
Arkansas was without a coach after Stan Heath was fired March 26. The Razorbacks eyed some big-name coaches -- including Bill Self of Kansas and Billy Gillispie, who left Texas A&M to take over at Kentucky. Arkansas also received permission to talk to Memphis coach John Calipari.
Altman's startling reversal led Arkansas to enlist a search firm to help find a coach, and Pelphrey apparently became a more serious candidate once the Kentucky job was filled.
"He would not talk to us until after the Kentucky job," Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles said. "We knew he was on Kentucky's short list because the same firm was handling us and them."
Pelphrey, though, says he doesn't view Arkansas as a stopover. He even poked a bit of fun at Kentucky's famously demanding fans.
"If I was the Kentucky coach, the moment I hit the ground I'd be a complete idiot," he said. "That would tarnish what I did as a player there. This is the best situation for me and my family right here."
Broyles was so impressed with Pelphrey he even cited Nolan Richardson, the former Arkansas coach who was fired amid plenty of acrimony in 2002.
"Nolan Richardson had a great quote the other day in the paper," Broyles said. "He said you don't hire a coach and make him fit. You hire someone who fits the job."
Pelphrey is well-versed in Arkansas history. He played for Sutton, a former Arkansas coach, and was an assistant on Sutton's staff at Oklahoma State. During his speech, Pelphrey mentioned the 1978 Razorbacks, who went to the Final Four under Sutton.
Also endearing to Arkansas fans is Pelphrey's plan for up-tempo basketball.
"It's a mother-in-law defense," he said. "Constant pressure and harassment."
Tom Ostrom, an assistant on Pelphrey's staff at South Alabama, will join him at Arkansas.
Patrick Beverley, the sharp-shooting guard who was the SEC newcomer of the year this season, sought to quell transfer speculation. He said he'll stay at Arkansas.
"When I signed my letter of intent to play for Arkansas, I didn't sign to play for any particular coach," Beverley said. "I signed to play for the University of Arkansas."
Arkansas' athletic program has been in a bit of turmoil lately. Coach Houston Nutt's football team went 10-4 last season, but the Razorbacks' offensive coordinator left after one season, and prized freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain is set to transfer.
The basketball coaching search only added to the drama. After Altman's change of heart, Arkansas issued a release saying two basketball players had tested positive for marijuana and one was under academic suspension.
Broyles, 82, announced in February he will retire at the end of the year.
But Pelphrey will have an early chance to invigorate the fan base. The Razorbacks went 21-14 last season and made the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. Although that wasn't enough to save Heath's job, hopes are high for next season -- Arkansas had no seniors in 2006-07.
The Razorbacks won the 1994 national championship under Richardson, playing a style dubbed "40 Minutes of Hell." The program has slipped from those heights. After Richardson's firing, Heath went 82-71 in five seasons at Arkansas.
The Razorbacks were 43-24 over the last two years but still haven't won an NCAA tournament game since 1999. Heath has taken the South Florida job.
"We need to get this state rallied back up," Pelphrey said. "I want you to know that your style of play is back, and we're going to compete and play hard and get back to winning games and try to compete for championships in the SEC. We know if we do that, it's going to put us in an unbelievable situation nationally."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press